How to source the best music for your video game

How to source the best music for your videogame? If you type ‘video games’ onto the search box on Spotify. Your top result will be Lana Del Rey’s 2011 doomy pop ballad Video Games. 

But scroll down a bit (keep going) and you’ll find a bunch of amazing playlists of actual video game soundtracks. In fact, there are loads, covering everything from ‘top hits’ and classical scores, through to chillout and retrowave, as well as more intense, heroic styles.

Spotify’s ‘official’ video games playlist focuses on ‘legendary’ tunes from both retro and contemporary titles – everything from Halo and Pokémon to Super Mario and Assassin’s Creed. Lots of Assassin’s Creed. But it’s not all AAA titles – there are plenty of indie soundtracks in there too, such as Celeste, Untitled Goose Game, Cuphead and many more.

What’s instantly noticeable is the extremely high production values, particularly on the orchestral scores, and the often specialist nature of the composers and artists. In fact, the list is dominated by scores over actual songs, showing that creating music for games is very much an artform in itself – last year Bear McCreary won a BAFTA for his work on the God of War soundtrack, which featured Nordic choirs and instruments.

Videogames Music

Of course, there are also lots of examples of mainstream pop/rock/electronic music being licensed for use in games too. My mind always leaps to EA’s use of Blur’s awesome Song 2 on FIFA Road To World Cup 98 as the first time this was done in an overtly commercial way, but there are loads of other examples – Tony Hawk (Rage Against The Machine), Grand Theft Auto (Dr Dre & Snoop Dogg) and Wipeout 2097 (The Prodigy) to name a just a few.

But whether the game you’re working on requires a score or an actual song (or songs) where on earth do you start? It’s clear that for the AAA titles referenced above there are significant challenges around talent, commercial and legal issues.

For indie developers especially, the main budgetary focus is almost certainly going to be on gameplay and aesthetics, with the resources available to spend on a score or music likely to be relatively limited. Luckily there are options available, but some are better than others.

How to source the best music for your video game

How to source the best music for your videogame

A first port of call for a game producer will likely be one of the numerous music libraries out there – which can provide a useful solution if you have a limited budget. Sites like Bensound <https://www.bensound.com>, FreeSFX <https://freesfx.co.uk> and PlayOnLoop <https://www.playonloop.com> are good places to start.

There are drawbacks to using these kinds of libraries, however. Quality can be highly variable, the breadth of content can be quite narrow in terms of styles and genres, plus there’s potential for things going wrong if a game become a massive hit and someone starts asking for a cut. It’s been known to happen, despite the ‘royalty free’ disclosures.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that the music available via a library is more often than not non-exclusive, meaning it’s likely being used in games other than yours. Not only that, but it was probably composed many years ago, and is now stale, as music production standards have skyrocketed in recent years.

And because of that, as a studio you’ll be unable to monetise your soundtrack outside of the game, should the opportunity arise. This is a really important consideration – investing in the right music can also provide you with an additional revenue stream.

Exclusivity and Inclusivity

Owning the music not only guarantees exclusivity across any region and any gaming platform, it can be used as part of additional downloadable content, creating an even greater game experience and extra kudos for fans. It can also provide a marketing outlet through the built-in audience of any artists/producers you work with.

The good news is there are more sophisticated options out there providing cost-effective alternatives to music libraries (disclaimer: my company, LabelRadar, offers one such option).

Imagine being able to crowdsource the perfect music to suit any particular game genre or style – whether you need something for a promotional video, content for in-game radio, music for DLC, or indeed a full game soundtrack, for free.

It would be great, right? But what if the same service also enabled you to engage with your fans through remix contests and, ultimately, to release the track commercially through a label partner, marketing your game to a huge, relevant audience? Even better.

How to source the best music for your video game Creed

Opportunities in gaming music

My involvement in Jägermeister’s Track and Build <http://www.trackandbuild.io> video game music initiative last year really opened my eyes to challenges that indie studios can face when it comes to in-game music, but also lit up some lightbulbs on possible solutions.

Ultimately, the average mobile, PC or console game takes a significant amount of investment in time, resource and money. A quality piece of music not only reflects the professionalism of the game itself, but it also has the power to completely transform a player’s experience. After all, very few games are out there winning awards using library music.

A solid soundtrack can potentially make a good game ‘great’. In fact, research suggests that gamers subconsciously associate particular tracks to the games that they’re playing, creating deep emotional connections. That’s only going to happen if you choose a killer track that works on every level through the game, as opposed to one that’s bolted on as an afterthought.

We all know the importance of tools like Unity or Unreal Engine, but now the musical tools are out there for indie developers – get involved and your game could have a Spotify playlist all of its own.

Ed Brew is CEO of  an innovative and groundbreaking music platform which allows games studios to access its 50,000 artist portfolio and source soundtracks – all free of charge www.labelradar.com

Thanks for reading our piece How to source the best music for your videogame with Ed Brew, for more articles from members of the Games Industry visit our features pages.

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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